UN agency warns European leaders of ‘last opportunity’ for response to refugee crisis

A woman carrying a child under a blanket walks on a muddy path in the southern Serbian town of Preševo, on the border with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Photo: UNICEF/Tomislav Georgiev

22 September 2015 – European Union leaders are meeting in Brussels today and tomorrow to discuss the ongoing refugee and migration crisis, in what the United Nations cautioned may be the last chance to create a coherent response to end the suffering and exploitation of refuges and migrants.

“This is a crisis of political will combined with lack of European unity that is resulting in management mayhem,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.

“When in 1956, 200,000 Hungarians fled to Austria and Yugoslavia, not only were people properly received, but a relocation programme was quickly put into place and 140,000 people were relocated to other countries,” he noted.

“What was possible then should be possible now. Tomorrow’s EU Council meeting is absolutely crucial to overcome Europe’s divisions and create needed political commitment and momentum.”

The Office of the High Commissioner (UNHCR) has urged that the creation of 120,000 additional places for refugees be approved this week. It also noted that the refugee relocation programme cannot be implemented properly without adequate reception facilities in countries where refugees are entering Europe.

On average, 6,000 people arrive in Europe each day, and many tens of thousands are likely to require assistance at any given time.

In addition to the relocation programme, UNHCR has proposed a number of measures to help Europe resolve the crisis, including strong European support for the immediate creation of facilities in Greece to receive, assist, register and screen refugees arriving by sea. Similar facilities may also be required in Serbia or other EU countries.

It also called for the commencement of the relocation of 40,000 refugees to participating EU countries, as previously agreed, to be expanded with voluntary pledges by EU States for an additional 120,000 places, a figure UNCHR notes will likely increase in the future.

Measures are also needed to provide additional humanitarian funding and structural support to countries hosting refugee populations, including an increase in opportunities for Syrian refugees to access legal channels to the EU, including enhanced resettlement and humanitarian admission, family reunification and humanitarian and student visas.

UNHCR also noted the need to strengthen the mechanisms for the humane return of people not in need of international protection using the search-and-rescue operation FRONTEX.

Only a united European emergency response can address the present refugee and migration crisis, cautioned UNHCR, noting that Europe can no longer afford to continue with a disjointed approach that creates “chaos and desperation” among thousands of refugees.

“This may be the last opportunity for a coherent European response to manage a crisis that is increasing suffering and exploitation of refugees and migrants and tension between countries,” the agency stated.


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